Saturday, 26 March 2016

Ankle socks and cold legs...

Hello and a happy Saturday to you!

It's my turn again at the Writing Wranglers and Warriors blog this Saturday but I'm REBLOGGING most of it here since it's about my Easter memories. 

Spring into summer… via Easter

My earliest memories of Easter are not so much of hand painted hard-boiled eggs, of chocolate eggs, or of hot cross buns. What I recall most during my growing years of the 1950s was that regardless of whether the Easter weekend fell in March or in April, it was a symbolic time to shed the winter clothes and showcase those for the summer.

Brrr….Freezing cold legs and short ankle socks! That’s what I remember most.

The aunt I was named after, my aunt Nan (usually called my Nana) generally made my sister and I an Easter outfit every year. She was a kilt/ tartan clothes maker to trade and worked in the Glen Har factory in Hillington, Glasgow, Scotland. Glen Har was a prestigious clothing outlet which sent tartan and tweed products to worldwide destinations. Highly skilled seamstresses worked there, so Nana’s wages weren’t brilliant but they were a little above average for the sewing trade.

Nana was my mother’s unmarried sister. She looked after my grandfather who was 78 the year I was born. Regardless of having her full time 5 days a week sewing job and caring for a cantankerous old man who lived till I was eight in 1960, she also loved my sister and me to bits, spoiling us rotten whenever she could afford it. This was just as well because my mum and dad couldn’t buy many new clothes for us; everything we wore was well cared for and intended to last a long time.

Unfortunately, I’ve no photographs of any of our full Easter outfits but this photo to the left is of Nana, my sister and me. I’m about 5 years old in this one: our skirts no doubt quite stylish for that year. (1957?)

However, every Easter, Nana went the whole hog. Our brand new outfit got its first airing on Easter Sunday at her local Church of Scotland where my sister and I were enrolled in the Sunday School. Rain, hail or shine …and maybe even snow… we wore our new outfits on Easter Sunday regardless, Nana included as she kitted herself out as well! 

She would have been ‘black-affontit’ if we weren’t presentable from inside out so, on Good Friday, our cosy and well worn libertybodices went into storage for the next winter. Nana replaced our scratchy woollen winter vests with strappy white knitted-cotton ones which sometimes had a lovely, but itchy, lace edging. Below that we had brand new knickers. Don’t ask what they were like - lets just say they were cotton utility with wide elastic!

Even though my sister is four years my senior, we tended to get the same design in a pretty cotton dress, or a matching blouse and skirt set. On top of that we would be given a new cardigan, often ones Nana hand knitted. A new cotton jacket or coat completed the outfit, generally shop bought, though I do recall the ‘Duster coats’ she made for us on at least one occasion.

The following photo isn’t an Easter one but my sister and I are wearing blouses and kilts made by Nana. 

The kilts are Dress Stewart (I think) although we technically only can claim to be affiliated to the Mackenzie, or the Fraser clans. I’m guessing that Nana couldn’t acquire Mackenzie or Fraser tartan at the time of the photo. However, I do remember wearing were a  Dress Mackenzie and an Anderson tartan kilt when I as older. Woollen socks were the order of the day for the kilt outfit and though not in the photo she knitted us Aran style zipped jackets with matching Dress Stewart panels to the front of them. I think I’m a bit less than 4 years old in the photo and the kilt outfits were probably part of our Christmas present from her.

But back to those freezing legs memories. At Easter, we got brand new white cotton ankle socks, sometimes with a little frilly pastel lace edging, and new shoes. Into the storage cupboard went the knee length woollen or cotton socks that had done their turn for us over the winter months. (We had no thick tights or leggings in those days) 

Wikimedia Commons
My hard wearing Clark’s Torflex winter shoes were replaced by summer sandals, or finer summer shoes. I remember at least one pair of my summer shoes being made of fine white kid leather which had to be carefully buffed up with a special white polish. Scratches on those shoes were a nightmare to remove.

Wikimedia Commons

Of course these clothes and shoes didn’t magically appear at the Easter weekend, a lot of preparation went into the affair. For reasons I now understand better since I became a grandmother myself, my sister and I were taken to Nana’s to ‘stay over’ most weekends while my grandfather was alive. This meant both he and Nana could see us regularly. Deposited every Friday night at Nana’s meant we could go out on Saturday to buy anything that was shop-bought for our new Easter outfits. Nana claimed to love shopping with us and always made it fun.

Reading the descriptions of our outfits above, you might be thinking that Nana liked cotton an awful lot and you’d be correct! As well as ensuring we looked beautiful, and were a credit to her, she was also extremely practical. She knew that after Easter it would be my mother who had to wash the clothes and that was quite a palaver in the 1950s.

From my birth in 1952 till 1959, I lived in what was a ‘less than desirable’ Maryhill tenement block in Glasgow, Scotland. The Victorian built red sandstone exterior was completely blackened by smoke and soot but it was still in fairly sound condition. However, the building had not been internally renovated over the decades. Most of the housing in Maryhill, a poor inner city area, was owned by a relatively small number of landlords. They liked extracting the money from their tenants but hadn’t been too sharp at improving the living conditions of those tenants who paid them money every week to live in their buildings.

My tenement's facade, with some prominent window features, looked a bit like this one when viewed from Maryhill Road, though the photo below is of the High Street in Glasgow. Like the photo seen here, we had a shop called D. M. Hoey (a drapers shop) directly below our front window.

Wikimedia Commons

The flats/apartments tended to be small and generally consisted of a room and kitchen that is one bedroom and one kitchen separated by a small entrance hall, usually called the lobby. We were fortunate in that we had an inside toilet with a flush cistern - those fancy high up on the wall cisterns with a huge long chain pull. The more unfortunate of our neighbours didn’t have inside toilets, they had to share the ‘stairheid lavvy’ i.e. a communal W.C.  Most of those neighbours lived in the ‘single ends’. The reasoning escapes me but generally the single ends  i.e. one room only flats were usually the middle door of the three doors to each landing on the close - the name for the communal access stairway. The communal stair head lavatory was often shared by 4 or 5 families which sometimes meant an average of upwards of 2 dozen people. 

The stairheid lavvy was never pleasant to walk past.

There was no hot running water inside our house. Water was either heated by a small gas geyser system or by heating a large kettle or pan on the range. The range in my first house was a black leaded fire-come-oven-come-stove-top, an all in one place cooking and heating system.

Wikimedia Commons- typical black leaded range

Since there was only cold running water to the tap and sink in the kitchens, the women of Maryhill tended to wash their family clothes in a purpose built wash house situated in the central back court. The wash house, a small brick building, held a boiler to heat water, a couple of large sinks for rinsing clothes and an impressive mangle/ wringer to extract the excess water. The boiler was coal fired and the hot water fed into what seemed to a small child to be a huge cauldron.

My mother and her neighbours would take turns for the use of this facility, the key generally coming to my mum on a particular day and nominated time. If you were unable to take your ‘turn’ to use the facility then the family clothes remained unwashed till the next turn.

The boiler fire was lit by the first user of the day, after which there was a short wait till the water in the large copper boiler got to boiling point.  My mum would boil the clothes in the huge boiler, popping in the bedding, towels and cotton underclothes first. Clouds of steam filled the small room as the process got underway. Wash soap was added and a huge wooden paddle was used to stir the boiling clothes. 

After the boiling process the clothes were removed with the paddle and slurped into the adjacent huge Belfast style earthenware sinks. That was not only a tricky process but a hazardous one. Nasty burns on wash day were not uncommon. Any residual dirt on the ‘whites’ was thumped out by hand using block soap against a metallic or glass rippled wash board. 
Mangle- Wikimedia Commons
When the clothes were rinsed free of soap they would be pressed through a mangle which was mounted at the side of a sink. The large wringer removed the excess water. pressing full sized cotton or linen sheets through this was a definite skill and required quite a lot of strength and energy! Almost the same laborious process was used to clean the non- white clothes which couldn’t be boiled but could withstand a fair degree of hot water.

The clean clothes were then pegged out on the wash lines which crisscrossed the back court and air dried if it wasn’t raining. If, unfortunately, it was raining the clothes were taken into the house and hung on a pulley system in the kitchen.

Back to my lovely white ankle socks. Nylon ones were available by the late 1950s but they tended to go all stretchy after a few hot washes and they lost their pristine whiteness fairly quickly. On the other hand, cotton could withstand a lot of boiling, battering and could be bleached to a new whiteness over the months of use.

We did have some sunny warm days back in the 1950s though for some amazing reason I remember the cold leg feeling a lot more! As I write this my laundry of today is birlin’ aroon nicely on my drying line in the garden. It’s around 8 deg C/ 46.5 F and I really don’t fancy getting out the ankle socks this weekend.


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